Globalisation: This light shines out

Sanjay Suri

The sun is shining on this particularly globalised project. An Indian has been encouraged by a British award to begin manufacturing solar lamps in China with material sourced in Japan to sell to South Africa and Australia. Until the other day Dharmappa Barki who lives in Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh state of India did not have the kindest things to say about globalisation. When he won the Ashden awards last month, with a prize of almost 50,000 dollars, Barki pointed to the difference between the globalised world of aircraft flying overhead and the dark world of many Indian villages below. Barki has sought to dispel some of that darkness with a solar lamp he has manufactured called Aishwarya. He named the lamp after India’s best known actress, Aishwarya Rai. He has sold so far more than 50,000 lamps produced at his NEST (Nobal Energy Solar Technologies).

Aishwarya is not the first solar lamp but it is a particularly efficient one. Priced 1400 rupees (32 dollars) it provides three hours of good light a day. Its battery is guaranteed for three years and its solar panel for ten. The lamp which has a bright and constant white light, has found many takers because it is backed by microcredit. Instead of a down payment of 1400 rupees, buyers can pay 100 rupees a month over 16 months. The Ashden award for renewable energy presented to Barki last month has done wonders for him. “There’s been a huge interest in his product as a result of the awards,” Jo Walton from the Ashden awards trust in London told IPS. “I am receiving a lot of new business inquiries,” Barki told IPS on telephone from Secunderabad. Several new orders are in the pipeline already as a result, he said. “That includes three companies in Sri Lanka, one in Pakistan, one in Somalia and one in Australia,” he said. These deals are all close to completion, he said.

But Barki has been negotiating one of his biggest projects before the awards, he said. “I have a confirmed order for one million solar lanterns from South Africa over a period of two years. We are just working out the last details over pricing.” For manufacturing on that scale Barki has worked out an agreement with a company in China. “I am getting a 40 per cent advantage in manufacturing costs in China compared to India,” he said. A difficulty has been procuring the silicon seed stock needed to manufacture the solar panel on the lamp. For that Barki has entered into an alliance with a Japanese company. “Our turnover last year was about two crore of rupees (close to half a million dollars),” Barki said. Given the new orders in the pipeline, Barki is heading to be something of a Bill Gates of solar lanterns.” The solar lamps provide a smoke-free source of light to villagers who have no access to electricity. Use of such lamps have revolutionised the lives of thousands of such people. Barki set up his NEST in 1998, and has never looked back since he created his Aishwarya in 2001. His aim was to produce a lamp portable enough so that one could serve a whole family, and robust enough to withstand uses as varied as children poring over their studies, farmers milking a buffalo, or stallholders lighting their wares in the market. It began as a ‘made in India’ operation but it is now set to acquire global inputs and find a global reach. —IPS